Dale Mitchell: An Interview with the Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect

Derek HarmsworthSenior Writer IDecember 3, 2008

In 2007, the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt first- and second-round picks away in order to obtain Vesa Toskala from San Jose, ensuring they wouldn't be picking until the third round. 

With their first choice, 74th overall, the Maple Leafs selected local boy Dale Mitchell. 

Mitchell was playing in Oshawa at the time, and put up 80 points in just 67 games in his year of draft eligibility.  He would play one more year with Oshawa before being dealt this past summer to the Ontario Hockey League-powerhouse Windsor Spitfires.

In Windsor, Dale is enjoying much success.  Playing for a team that is currently ranked number one in all of Canada, Dale—and the team—has gotten off to a fast start.

He is in the final year of his junior career, and is focused on helping the Windsor Spitfires go as far as they can.  As you are about to read, anything less than a Memorial Cup would be a disappointment.

I got the chance to speak with Dale yesterday afternoon, when we spoke on topics such as the Spitfires, and his future with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Derek: "Lets start by talking about Windsor. You guys are having a great start to the season, with 24 wins in 27 games. You knew coming into this year you would have a good team, but as a group could you even have imagined this start?

Dale: "Yeah you said it there, we knew we were going to have a good team coming into the season and would compete for an OHL championship. The start we have right now is phenomenal, and we are a little surprised by it, but we have a real special group of guys here. We have a lot of skill and we have deserved the 24 wins that we have."

Derek: "Let's talk about yourself personally for a minute. You're 18th in league scoring with 29 points so far in 25 games. Is there one thing in particular you can contribute your success to, or is this a combination of many things coming together for you?"

Dale: "I had a slow start last year as a lot of people know, but I came into the season not worrying so much about points. I went into the playoffs last year not worrying about goals or anything like that and I ended up with ten. So I came into this season with the same mindset, not worrying so much about points and just making sure my game is well adapted to the overall team play, things like making sure I am not getting scored against, and making sure I've got my defensive check down low and things like that.

"When you do that the offense will come. And we also have a great group of talented guys, and any night I can play with any different guy and we can contribute offensively. It really helps and it has helped me so far this season, and I am pretty happy with my start so far."

Derek: "Let's talk about the trade that brought you to Windsor from Oshawa. How did you handle that, seeing as it was your first trade of your career? Was it something that was hard to deal with, or was it something you had seen coming?"

Dale: "Well, I knew I was part of the "future considerations." I had heard a lot of rumours about it and my agent had told me it was true but just to worry about where I was at the time. Last year in Oshawa we had a really good hockey team, and had a chance to compete and go to the OHL Championship. It was something that I didn't really worry about until after the season.

"It is hard though. You are with the same group of guys for three years and form bonds and to not be able to see those guys is a little upsetting.  But Windsor is a great place and I am real happy and just excited for what is to come. I am building new bonds with guys here and we have a great room right now, so if everything stays the same we'll all be happy."

Derek: "Like you said, you had a great group of guys in Oshawa. Brett McLean is playing well in the AHL. What can you say about John Tavares? A lot will be said of John, especially with this being his draft year. As someone who got the chance to play with John and practice and basically be around John, what sort of insight can you provide on him?"

Dale: "He's a great guy, especially when he was 15 and just starting in the league. He had so much media and hype around him and for being just 15 he handled it awesome. He was just like any other 15- or 16-year old, doing his thing, hanging out with the guys, and he was really mature about the whole situation.

Skillwise, we all know he's got great hands and is a phenomenal player both in practice and during games. He can be a real difference-maker when it comes down to pressure situations. To have played with a guy like that was real special, and I know he'll do well in the draft and in the NHL."

Derek: "You spoke a little about the room in Windsor earlier. Who in the locker room keeps it loose? Who is the guy controlling the stereo, keeping the room loose.  Is it one person or a full group effort? I know we are around the same age, so I know getting a group of guys our age together, things can get a little crazy."

Dale: "(laughs) Yeah. It's different here in how we prepare for our games as opposed to what I did while in Oshawa. The guys here are all real loose and we all just enjoy playing hockey. We take the game seriously, and we know it's a business and things like that, but at the same time we got guys who want to be loose which is fine and it's working right now. As for the music, I think we all contribute to what type of music gets played. We're actually a big techno team, so we usually enjoy that before a game."

Derek: " The OHL has introduced a lot of rule changes in the past few years, including the hit-to-the-head minor penalty. There has been a lot of talks of head shots with the recent rash of injuries. As someone who plays sort of a robust style, do you think the OHL rule works to police head shots?"

Dale: "Yeah I think it works. I mean sometimes if it is even on your team and a guy hits another guy and gets called for it, it still makes sense. Overall it's a safety thing and it's good that it's been brought into the league. The amount of concussions that were happening in the league before the rule was getting up there. I don't think anyone on our team has had a concussion this season, knock on wood.

"I think it works and is helping to look after the safety of the players, similar to the rule that brought in neck guards. They don't want anything serious to happen to us, and we are all willing to abide by those rules."

Derek: "Let's talk about your involvement with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Being a local Toronto-area boy, what did it mean to you to have the Leafs call your name on draft day?"

Dale: "It was awesome. It was in the third round where I was kind of hoping they would pick me, and they did. To be selected by them was an honour and it was amazing. Being from Mississauga, you grow up watching Hockey Night In Canada every Saturday night, and to one day be apart of that... It's up to myself to work to get there, but if I am ever a part of that, it would be amazing."

Derek: "You signed your first NHL contract with the Leafs recently. You always hear these cool stories of the first deal. Did you do anything cool with the money from your first deal?"

Dale: "(laughs) I ended up buying a car. I had an old beater for like a good year and a half, so I bought myself a new car. Other than that I haven't done much with it yet. I mean I would like to maybe buy a condo with it or something, but right now it's just kind of sitting there.

Derek: "Following an exit from last year's OHL playoffs, you immediately reported to the Toronto Marlies and appeared in a playoff game for them. You had already endured a long OHL season and playoffs on top of that, but did you feel going to the Marlies was something that was important for you?"

Dale: "Yeah. When I heard I was able to go and play for the Marlies, I didn't really expect much but to just learn and get the pro experience. The way those guys act is all professional, and they are there as a job. It's a little different than here in junior where some guys are here to play hockey and get their education package and see where it goes. Those guys are there to work, and they show up everyday to work, not just in practice but off the ice as well.

"To get myself into a couple games against Syracuse was a good experience, and now I know what it takes to play in the AHL. That was the AHL Calder Cup playoffs, so it was hard, but now I know what I have to do with my game off the ice to be a pro, hopefully next year, and if not next year than one day.

Derek: "For those who haven't gotten the chance to see you play, how would you describe your style of play? What are your strengths?"

Dale: "My strengths are probably my speed and my shot off the wing. I really just try to be a buzzsaw out there, and create chances in the offensive end. I am not the biggest guy, but I got my speed and my low centre of gravity against the bigger defenseman. Just try to create havoc with the puck in the zone and around the net.

Derek: "And at the opposite end, what are some things you are looking to improve?"

Dale: "I want to improve my all around game, defensively getting in shot lanes. I have been trying to practice how to hit more effectively and use my size against the bigger guys."

Derek: "Are you keeping up with the Leafs this year?"

Dale: "Yeah I have tried to follow them as much as possible. Windsor is a lot more of a Detroit kind of town, but I try to watch them as much as I can, and I think they are doing pretty well considering what was expected of them."

Derek: "Obviously you know that they brought in Brian Burke. He has gone on record saying he likes skilled players who also play with a bit of an edge, two traits I think you personally possess. Do you think the new Leafs style of play fits your style and suits your M.O. on the ice?"

Dale: "Yeah, especially since they are going with a youth movement. They are giving guys chances and using their farm system more. In the past they would never really call guys up, so to know that they are starting to call up guys, guys like Andre Deveaux, they are giving those guys opportunities. But it's always up to yourself, but to hear that he likes guys who play with an edge is good to know because I think it's part of my game."

Derek: "You're in your fourth season in the OHL and in the home stretch of your junior career. What are your expectations for this year and the one that follow, and what do you feel are realistic expectations of yourself?"

Dale: "I would like to continue developing my leadership and contribute to an OHL championship. Anything less would be a disappointment to me and these guys, and I look forward to using my leadership and helping out offensively wherever I can to help this team."

Derek: "How special is it for you to be in Windsor for the final year of "the barn"? It's a pretty famous arena that has taken on a life of its own. What does it mean to you to be a part of all these festivities that are going to taking place?"

Dale: "It's awesome, and Thursday night is going to be a special night. I was a part of something similar in Oshawa when they closed down the Civic, but to be a part of something like this again and to move into a new arena is going to be awesome. I'm sure all the guys are going to love this new arena as well, this Thursday when they close this it's going to special, and we're going to have to play a good game to close out the arena."

Derek:"Going forward, with a lot of variables to consider, you have gotten a look at most of the teams. Who do you think poses the biggest threat to you guys as the season goes on?"

Dale: "Well we know that London is really pushing to get a lot of players and go for a run, they are always going to be a good hockey team. And in the East there is Belleville and Brampton, but there are lots of teams who are also pushing to go as far as we want to go.

"We have to know that every team is going to play us hard. We are ranked tops in Canada, so we have to play our style of game and if we do we know we will be good every single night we play."

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